He took on No88 Damir Dzumhur, and it proved to be a devastating 67 minutes of all-court, attacking tennis that left Dzumhur with few answers.
But in taking on the No36 ranked Sam Querrey, 6ft 6in tall, a former top-20 player, owner of a devastating serve and riding here on some renewed form this season, Federer’s task looked a little tougher.
They had not played each other for many a year, and Querrey had not won a set in either match. But five years ago, when the big American was still just 22 years old, he won the Queen’s title and reached the fourth round of Wimbledon—still his best Grand Slam performance.
Injury and surgery saw him slip well down the rankings twice after that, but he came to Wimbledon with final runs in Houston and also on Nottingham’s grass. And he was certainly ready to rise to the Centre Court challenge and a hugely partisan crowd that, as has become the norm, gave the Swiss a standing ovation just for walking onto court.
But Querrey soon silenced them with a superb opening hold to love—two aces, a serve and forehand winner, and a final big serve.
It is rare to see Federer unable to handle even the biggest of serves, but Querrey’s would take him most of the opening set to read.
Indeed it was Federer’s serve, the bedrock of his all-court game, that came under immediate pressure, a break point and two deuces, as Querrey swung his forehand with abandon.
The Swiss survived with an unusually early ‘C’mon!’, only to have Querrey hold his next three serves for the loss of just two points.
The American seemed as cool as a cucumber when facing his first break points at 4-4, saving all three with serves of over 130mph. But he missed his next 135 serve by a whisker and Federer pounced with a return winner for another break chance. And now, with his eye in, the Swiss returned a blistering serve with interest and broke with a backhand pass. There were 20 minutes on the clock and 6-4 on the scoreboard.
Now Federer was picking the Querrey serve more readily and that gave him the chance to work some fast and furious rallies, with both en cracking their forehands, both trying to outwit the other, but the Federer defence-turned-attack was in full flow.
He broke straight away, took a 4-2 lead, and moving more like a 23-year-old than a man about to turn 34, he began pulling off shots of every persuasion. One will be played endlessly on Vine for the rest of the week, a reactive response to a bullet from Querrey picked off by Federer with a forehand lob winner between his legs.
The Centre Court crowd rose as one, but Federer was not done. He snapped a forehand winner for 30-30, got a net-cord for a second break point and the pressure finally told… a double fault from Querrey. With the second break and then a hold to love, Federer took the set, 6-2, after just 57 minutes of play.
Not only was Querrey now facing a Federer in full flow but even the luck seemed to be against him. He went down an immediate break and Federer held to love, unable to do anything wrong, it seemed. Even on an air-shot, the Swiss played to the crowd: hands on hips, head turned in a wry smile to the paying fans.
Federer, with a second break in the bag, served at 5-2, faced only his second break point of the match, but did not falter. Under an hour and a half, and he had the win, 6-2.
In most matches, a player who notched up 24 winners to 15 errors might expect, at the very least, to come close to winning. Unfortunately for Querrey, Federer made only 10 errors for 32 winners, notching up a his 2,500th winner at Wimbledon along the way. And no-one, it appears, has hit as many at the All England Club since they began to keep records in 1992.
Federer afterwards talked about the decision to play that winning lob between his legs—the instant assessments of grip, position, the current score, the chances of making it—and thought he had a good chance. But he added: “It was a perfect shot, but if you don’t win the point, you look a bit silly!”
He concluded, though: “Sometimes the feeling’s good. Today was definitely a good day. Feel like things are good out there.”
Querrey had his own take on things: “You know, today he hit that shot between the legs. He hit some amazing passing shots, hit some half volleys. He hits shots that other guys don’t hit.
“You know, you want to go over and give him a high five sometimes, but you can’t do that… You want to beat him, but he’s fun to watch, too.”
Next time, Federer said later, he should go ahead and do it: “That’s cool. Why not, he can do it. I’m happy to do it, too!”
Federer will next play another big 27-year-old, in Australian Sam Groth, who hit 24 aces in beating compatriot James Duckworth 7-5, 6-4, 7-6(6).
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